From The Nation
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka
sent his strongest signal yet about the labor movement's frustration
with the dysfunctional politics of the moment -- where Republicans go to
extremes on behalf of big banks and multinational corporations,
Democrats compromise and working families are left out of the equation.
Speaking Tuesday to the National Nurses United conference
in Washington, where more than one thousand nurses from across the
country rallied to begin the push to replace the politics of settling for
less with unapologetic demands for a new economic agenda, Trumka
found plenty of takers for his aggressively progressive message.
"We want an independent labor movement strong enough to return
balance to our economy, fairness to our tax system, security to our
families and moral and economic standing to our nation," declared
Trumka, who in recent months has been repositioning the AFL-CIO as a
force that will hold Republicans and Democrats to what he describes as
"a simple standard: "Are they helping or hurting working families?"
"We can't simply build the power of any political party or any
candidate. For too long we've been left after the election holding a
canceled check and asking someone to pay attention to us. No more! No
more!" the federation president, a former United Mineworkers union
chief, shouted above the cheers of the nurses.
Then he described a scenario all too familiar to union activists:
that of trying to get officials who are supposed to be allies of the
working Americans to act on their behalf with the same energy that
Republicans bring to aiding corporations.
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"For too long, we've been left after Election Day holding a canceled
check, waving it about--'Remember us? Remember us? Remember us?' -- asking
someone to pay a little attention to us," recalled Trumka who, like many
union leaders was frustrated with the failure of the Obama
administration and Democrats in Congress to pass the Employee Free
Choice Act and other needed labor law reforms. "Well, I don't know about
you, but I've had a snootful of that sh*t!"
There was no way to misread Trumka's message for Democrats who have
strayed on issues ranging from EFCA to trade policy to mounting an
absolute defense of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"When it comes to politics, we're looking for real champions of
working women and men. And I have a message for some of our 'friends.'
It doesn't matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking
ball or simply standing aside -- the outcome is the same either way," he
explained. "If leaders aren't blocking the wrecking ball and advancing
working families' interests, working people will not support them. This
is where our focus will be -- now, in 2012 and beyond."
Trumka chose exactly the right setting in which to deliver that
message. The NNU (which also welcomed this writer as a speaker at its
gathering) has long advocated for a more militant stance when it comes to
politics, as evidenced this week by the union's mass protest outside the headquarters of the US Chamber of Commerce.
As the nurses blocked traffic, NNU executive director Rose Ann DeMoro
led the crowd in chanting "Our street!" and then pointing at the Chamber
building and shouting "Wall Street!"
That determination to take the fight to Wall Street is at the heart of the NNU's new "Main Street Contract for the American People" that, among other things, demands that elected officials take a "Which Side Are You On?" pledge.
The pledge contrasts Wall Street's push for "tax cuts for the rich
and powerful" and "replacing Medicare with vouchers" with a Main Street
Contract that seeks:
1. Jobs at living wages to reinvest in America.
2. Equal access to quality, public education.
3. Guaranteed healthcare with a single standard of care.
4. A secure retirement with the ability to retire in dignity.
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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.
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